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NFL Draft 2016: 49ers fans taken on an emotional roller coaster

Al Sacco
May 2, 2016 at 9:13 AM24

When I first sat down to write this article, I had every intention of doing a fairly traditional, cookie cutter overview of the San Francisco 49ers and the 2016 NFL Draft. I was going to break down the picks, give some numbers from Pro Football Focus, and maybe even assign the team a grade. I love that stuff. Everyone does. As I began though, I didn't really feel like I was doing justice to what my draft experience was, and in turn, wouldn't be doing justice to yours. What I mean is, I'm a writer, but I was always a fan first. Fans have emotions, which are sometimes irrational, but that's part of the fun. We're invested, we care, and we think we know what's best (even though sometimes we're way off base).

Where am I going with this? Well, I don't want to write something regurgitating a bunch of stats and things that the Mel Kipers of the world said. I want to write what I was thinking, feeling, and going through as the 49ers made their picks. Maybe you'll find that you had some of the same emotions, maybe you won't. What will be undeniable though is that we all felt strongly one way or another.

To start, it's always hard for me to have expectations for the Niners, because GM Trent Baalke can be extremely unpredictable. He has his own way of thinking, and rarely strays from that process. It's kind of infuriating actually. Sometimes I think he's stuck in 1987, dreaming of himself in some meeting listening to Bill Parcells talk about how to build a football team. The game has changed, and while I believe some of Baalke's maxim still holds merit, I think he needs to tweak his approach a bit. I'll get more into that later.

Regardless of my mixed feelings on Baalke's general philosophy, I have to say I loved what he did in the first-round. A big reason San Francisco was so good during the Jim Harbaugh years was due to the fact that they had a dominant defensive line. The consistent push and pressure they got upfront from the likes of DE Justin Smith and DE Ray McDonald gave the entire defense a boost, and may have even made guys like OLB Aldon Smith and OLB Ahmad Brooks look better than they actually were. Mind you, ILB Patrick Willis and ILB NaVorro Bowman would still have been tackling machines, but they may have been making those four or five yards past the line of scrimmage if not for the d-line doing their thing.

Now I understand that players like Justin Smith don't grow on trees, but if they did, they might actually sort of look like DE DeForest Buckner. Buckner may not be a sexy pick, but I really feel like he was the best one the team could've made. He's so polished, and ready to come in and start immediately. He can be an anchor on the d-line, and someone who will go to multiple Pro Bowls. Truth be told, I haven't been this excited in the first-round since WR Michael Crabtree in 2009.

As the night went on, I had a feeling that the Niners were going to try and get back into the first, maybe for QB Paxton Lynch. I was right about the move, but way off on the player. With Lynch already off the board to the Denver Broncos, Baalke instead made an aggressive trade to get what he felt was the best run blocking interior lineman in the draft, G Joshua Garnett.

My initial reaction was shock, not in the selection, but in the fact that Baalke gave up three picks (his own second, a fourth and a sixth) to move up for someone who was going to be there at 37 anyway. As I did some research though, it seemed possible that the Seattle Seahawks had their sights set on Garnett, and the Niners actually made a smart, aggressive move.

If you can come away with two cornerstone players in any draft, you've done a tremendous job. I think San Francisco did that on day one alone, as I believe Buckner and Garnett are going to be starters for a decade in the trenches. They were very "Baalke" type picks, but in this case I'm all for them. Things were off to a great start, but the next couple of days would leave me baffled.

Let me just say that I don't think Baalke chose bad players, I just don't always like his approach. I really feel like, at some point, the 49ers have to realize that they need big time players at the skill positions to compete long-term in the NFL. A good quarterback can give you sustained success, and receivers and tight ends who make plays can help you, you know, score points.

Baalke, however, treats his skills positions like afterthoughts, and it absolutely drives me crazy. So when the Niners passed up on someone like WR Braxton Miller to select a rehabbing CB Will Redmond in the third, I was ready to throw my phone across the hotel room I was staying in that night.

Baalke's affinity for injured players is bordering on just plain insanity at this point, as none of them have worked out. I guess the jury's still out on CB Keith Reaser and WR DeAndre Smelter, but RB Marcus Lattimore, FB Trey Millard, DE Tank Carradine, and G Brandon Thomas all look like mistakes. In the cases of Carradine and Thomas, those selections have actually set the team back and are a big part of the reason the team needed to redraft those positions with Buckner and Garnett.

Now I've read that Redmond might have been a late first-rounder if he wasn't injured, but he's injured. There's no guarantee he'll bounce back so it's a giant risk for a team that doesn't have the luxury of taking them anymore. The same could be said for Baalke's next selection, CB Rashard Robinson. Because of a laundry list of incidents, Robinson hasn't played since 2014, and is another big question mark.

I'm confused here. Baalke took four corners in the 2014 draft (Reaser, CB Dontae Johnson, CB Kenneth Acker, CB Jimmie Ward), and is now taking more? My initial thought was that he's redrafting again, but does he even know what he has in the guys he took two years ago to begin with?

If you want to look at it from a positive angle, new defensive coordinator Jim O'Neill is a Rex Ryan/Mike Pettine disciple, which means he'll want to bring pressure from different places. In turn, the defense needs strong corners, so maybe Baalke felt he needed an upgrade to fit the new scheme change. That could be the case, and I could just be looking at this with blinders on, but the whole thing just seemed off to me.

As upset as I was with the mid-rounds, I liked the approach moving forward. I think DE Ronald Blair is a good, balanced defensive lineman and will add much needed depth there. He was a steal in the fifth. The next two picks, OT John Theus and OT Fahn Cooper, are offensive lineman that can play inside or out, and will probably spell the end of T Erik Pears and G Jordan Devey (which makes me very happy). I'm more excited about Cooper, as he fared well against some stiff competition at Mississippi.

In the sixth round, I felt like Baalke was just trolling everyone when he finally decided to start taking skill players. In my irrational head, it was like, "Sure I'll take a QB, receiver and running back, but they don't matter that much so I'll grab them late." You're killing me, Trent.

I do feel like QB Jeff Driskel is intriguing because his skill set and athletic ability really fit HC Chip Kelly's offense well. If they're patient with him, who knows? Could end up being a starter, but he's a project. Same goes for RB Kelvin Taylor (who's former Jacksonville Jaguar Fred Taylor's son) and WR Aaron Burbridge. All are good value picks in the sixth round, but are they guys you feel will be impact players? I'm not so sure. Especially with Burbridge, he just kind of feels like another guy. The 49ers have a lot of those at wide out, don't they?

The seventh round is a good time to take a chance on someone, so Baalke decided he needed another cornerback to compete with the nine they already have. Actually, CB Prince Charles Iworah is very intriguing as he runs a 4.3 40 (that's really fast), but again, how many freaking cornerbacks do you need? What about someone promising to compete at inside linebacker, or a project pick to develop as a pass rusher?

Anyway, I'm interested to hear what everyone else's experience was, and if you shared any of the same thoughts. Again, this wasn't meant to be a draft breakdown by any means, but instead just a piece on what went through my mind as a fan more than anything else.

Al Sacco has covered the 49ers for various sites over the years. He's been a guest on multiple podcasts and had his work used by ESPN NFL Insiders and USA TODAY. Follow Al on Twitter @AlSacco49
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • Rboogie
    I completely agree with the roller coaster feeling of the draft...home run with deforest Buckner and was in shock with josh Garnett until I read up on him and how we stole him from the Seattle Seahawks. However having so many DB's added to the cupboard it feels like we have quantity over quality but who knows! The 2 tackles will be an upgrade for the offensive line which needed it and Anthony Davis made himself an after thought
    May 3, 2016 at 11:44 AM
  • Ninerlifer
    We need the extra db's because with kelly's offense the D may get tired fast, therefore we need depth. Love the Buckner, Garnett, and Blair picks. We are rebuilding. We need to repair the trenches first and foremost. Kelly's offense will score points. We need D that can get the ball back to them. It ain't sex. ..but it is necessary. Nice article though!
    May 3, 2016 at 11:39 AM
  • Niner
    Don't believe the York propaganda . Baalke , after letting a team full og pro bowlers turn into garbage off the streets ( see fa and 2012 draft) would have been fired by any owner wanting his team to win. Baalke stays because the Yorks want to be under the cap more than anyone else. Expect more veterans to be released. The less he spends the more he pockets. He has to make up for the $ the family lost in the Tomsula idiocy. This team doesn't win until there is new ownership. ( eg... Warriors and Giants)
    May 3, 2016 at 7:34 AM
  • Goro
    Baalke did not draft wr rb olb I believe he wants players he drafted to have a shot to save his image. I believe in developing players but with a 3rd coaching staff in 3 yrs most of these young players will be gone soon.
    May 3, 2016 at 5:27 AM
  • JP
    I was dying for offensive line help so the first couple picks drove me crazy. We went to a Super Bowl with our two Pro Bowl lineman (now gone) and Kaep at Qb. Yep...that very same Kaep we all now seem to hate. Its amazing how good and then how bad an offensive line can make your team look. (Remember when Kaep was leading us down the path of being the next generation of QB's??) I'm still hoping we can somehow beg Anthony Davis off of the cliff. Oh please god! Admittedly I dont know much about Buckner...but if he's as good as you say then I'll take it. I would've traded up and gone with Jaylen Smith or even Myles Jack in the second round to go with Bowman (Can you imagine?? Sigh) But giving up all those picks to select a late second round graded guard seemed crazy to me. But its O-line help so maybe i should be thankful. When I saw them pick up more OT's later in the draft it made me feel a little better...sort of. But then I saw a flurry of DB's get taken that I've never even heard of and still no help for Bowman. Smh.
    May 2, 2016 at 3:57 PM
  • Don Newson
    While I agree, skill players should be a higher prioity, NFL teams, and IMHO the 9ers in particular, need as many corners as they can get. Don't forget, for some strange reason, they've recycled both starting corners the last two years. I think the good teams -- Pats -- draft lot's of db's.
    May 2, 2016 at 2:57 PM
  • Frank
    I couldn't be happier with the 1st two picks love moving up for Garnett and getting him on a 5 yr DE and OG in the draft what's not to like? IMO if you can come away with 3 good starters in any draft that's a win. I understand everyone's issue with loading up on CBs again, but besides DJ we spent late RD picks on the position and it sounds like Ward might be making the move to SS at some point. Throw in Brock can be cut next season for next to nothing, I'm fine with adding 3 CBs with a lot of may look like a ton of CBs now, but that can change very quickly. Big fan of the Butler pick as well, I wanted to come away with two defensive lineman in this draft. I will agree at some point we need to work on the skilled positions but scheme can help that a lot. I mean not too long ago we had Crabtree, Stevie Johnson, Boldin, Gore, Hyde, and VD but couldn't score at all.
    May 2, 2016 at 2:54 PM
  • hawkspa
    I like J. Garnett a great deal, but I wish we have stayed put and draft Buckner at No. 7, Reggie Ragland at No. 37, and A. Billings at No. 105. Since we need OG badly, we could have drafted C. Westerman later, as well as Vadal Alexander, who was available at No. 213. Personally, I would rather have drafted only one OT (instead of two, Teus and Cooper) and TE Jerell Adams.
    May 2, 2016 at 2:35 PM
  • mbniner
    As the draft unfolded I came to the conclusion that Baalke/Kelly are much more comfortable with our current WRs and OLBs than the media and most fans are. I think that Rogers, from the CFL, andSmeltzer, off IR, are the keys at WR. If one or both live up to expectations we will be solid. At the OLB position the keys are Carridine and Herold. Herold has gained 30 lbs during the off-season and should be much stronger than last year, which was his weak point last season. Carridine was misused by bulking him up and trying to turn into Justin Smith instead of using his strengths. He did the opposite of Herold and lost about 30 Lbs to regain quickness and speed. So Baalke addressed other needs, such as a backup swing OT and a lot of depth on defense, probably needed due to Chip's Offensive strategy. Will it work out? I'm optimistic.
    May 2, 2016 at 2:02 PM
  • Broc L
    Since teams play so much nickel and dime, and it seems we have 4 very solid safeties, that he wants to get them all on the field as much as possible, especially since, as of now, we've spent the 7th most on safeties in the NFL. Reid/Bethea, Ward as slot CB and Taritt as 2nd linebacker, which makes the need for an additional ILB obsolete. From a CB spend standpoint, we've spent the 5th fewest, so position flexibility there can be a good thing. And one of the CB's is hurt and the other is a 7th rounder so in all reality, we have one CB in camp. Besides the points I countered above, I agree with the rest of the article. Didn't care for a QB in this draft and wish we would have landed a skill position with the second pick (likely a WR) but I'm also OK to see what we have in Ellington/Patton/Smelter/Rodgers, opposite of Smith.
    May 2, 2016 at 12:43 PM
  • Daniel G
    You pretty much nailed it right on the head with this article. A lot of good players, but at positions with a lot of young bodies already competing. I was aching to take Scooby Wright late in the draft. Why not add young talent at a position of need? We have so many d-linemen and corners on the roster that we're going to have to cut a lot of quality, still developing talent. I like who Baalke brought in, but I don't like who he's going to force out
    May 2, 2016 at 11:22 AM
  • Carl
    I agree with u .in Baalke tenure ,even when he's had a great D he passes on prime time players on offense .,very frustrating for me too. By drafting 3 CBs he inadvertly admitting he missed taking the 4 in 2014. Although I like most picks this draft. Over the years bad picks, C lemonier,Vance Mc,AJ Jenkins,looney,marcus m,Devy,pears,l James, b Thomas, latimore.,4 cb in 2014. My opinion he took Hyde @2 when he should have took E Lacy @ 3 the year b4. If by chance he's there next year ,which I hope he's not ,because I think Gamble is waiting in the wings. I expect the same bcuz that's his mo .overlook O and go mostly D.
    May 2, 2016 at 11:15 AM
  • Stephen Rejniak
    I truly believe this draft is not for now, but for the future. No one believes were going all the way this year, so they drafted for the trenches this year. Next year, the niners will draft to go all the way.
    May 2, 2016 at 11:12 AM
  • Nick
    I was hoping we would have made a move for QB Connor Cook as QB is a need on this team. I like the first 2 picks but I still can't stand Baalke regardless how this draft class turns out he has done enough damage to this franchise and does not even compare to previous GMs we had in the past maybe with the exception of Donohue !
    May 2, 2016 at 11:09 AM
  • Big
    The reason Ballke has to draft so many cb is because he never drafts them early. With guys that should be good from the start so he is always trying to find dimaonds in the late rounds that never pan out. Maybe for once he should draft a wr or cb in the first 2 rounds.
    May 2, 2016 at 11:04 AM
  • don
    Burbridge's big knock is that he doesn't create separation. Anquan Boldin had a HOF career not creating separation.. It's all about catching the football when thrown your way..
    May 2, 2016 at 10:47 AM
  • Jon
    "As I did some research though, it became obvious that the Seattle Seahawks had their sights set on Garnett, and Niners actually made a smart, aggressive move. " You CANNOT just throw this out there and give no supporting information. It was OBVIOUS the Seahawks would take Garnett. Says Who??
    May 2, 2016 at 10:41 AM
    Response: I probably used the wrong word there in obvious. I changed it to possible. Seemed like Seattle had their sights set on an interior o-lineman
  • Paul Lazar
    I don't care about moving back up to the first round to pick Garnett. Let's not forget now we get a 5th year option. Did we give up to much probably. Outside of linebackerS we picked up quality guys for the trenches. With so many olb'S taken in the draft we will have chances to pick up people that will be cut. As for special teams I think we picked up some gems. Only 50 percent of first rounders ever pan OT but I truly believe that we have to starters.
    May 2, 2016 at 10:33 AM
  • Paul
    Couldn't aggree with you more. Even the guard we got in the first was a bit of a head scratcher. Apparently he fit's a power run scheme and Chip Kelly runs a Zone blocking scheme. That being said we definitely needed more competition at MLB and OLB. I don't mind building up the O and D lines, I actually love that. He's drafted close to 10 DB's in the last 3 years which is just crazy talk.
    May 2, 2016 at 10:31 AM
  • Jack Buchanan
    I don't think Baalke is that happy with his corners so that's why he drafted 3 more. I love the Blair pick and the 2 OL's.Burbridge is more than a fringe guy. He was the Big !0 wide receiver of the year. Super competitive like all the players drafted. I too was bothered by no ILB or an edge rusher. Maybe Baalke will see who gets cut from other teams and find an ILB there. the only thing I can figure out why no edge rusher is they are counting on Eii Harold ( who's up to 270) and Tank Carradine to make an impact - hope, hope hope. Another thought is maybe they they think the inside pass rush from Buckner and Armstead will be so good they can have lesser OLB's
    May 2, 2016 at 10:12 AM
    Response: That's a good point about Buckner and Armstead, especially since they will play so much nickel.
  • KonaMike
    Al, you nailed my feelings exactly. It was hard to see us pass on ILBs Perry, Kwiatkowski and Stanford's Blake Martinez for 2 more CBs! I want to support Baalke but his picks often leave me baffled.
    May 2, 2016 at 10:09 AM
  • Dave
    To say...."Baalke gave up three picks (his own second, a fourth and a sixth)" is a little misleading. We actually really just gave up the 4th round pick. We swamped our 2nd rd pick with KC's 1st and swamped our 6th rd pick with KC's 7th.
    May 2, 2016 at 9:57 AM
  • Phil C.
    It's funny how people think if a 5th-7th round pick doesn't work out, or even a 4th round pick, drafting that player was a mistake. Players drafted that low aren't normally expected to do much in the NFL; they're projected backups, at best. If they do anything more it's a fluke. For every Tom Brady or Richard Sherman, there's hundreds more late round picks who were out of the NFL after 2 years. Lattimore was worth a risk in the 4th round because before his gruesome knee injuries he was a major talent with NFL starter potential. And Millard was a 7th round pick. I don't need Iworah contributing at corner. He'd make an awesome special teams guy. With his speed he could be a heck of a gunner. He'll be on punt returners in a hurry.
    May 2, 2016 at 9:46 AM
  • Toronto Tom
    By drafting another 3 corners in 2016, isn't Baalke admitting his cornerback draft picks in 2014 are failing to live up to expectations? It appears that Jimmie Ward may be moving to safety, so maybe it's unfair to count him. And, I honestly don't know if Reaser, Acker and Johnson are developing nicely or not, although Baalke likes to tell us how many "good young players" he's draft over the last few years But if they are, why go so overboard on the position this year when there are other screaming needs? Just feels like a "do over" for Baalke, which doesn't say good things about his eye for talent.
    May 2, 2016 at 9:45 AM

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